Over a 15 month period all patients with corneal ulcers presenting at two district hospitals were interviewed regarding demographic and clinical characteristics and their use of traditional eye medicines (TEM). Of the 583 patients interviewed, 33.8% reported using TEM. There were no age or sex differences in TEM use. Patients who reported TEM use took, on average, 51 days between onset of symptoms and presentation while patients who denied TEM use took 13 days. Sixteen per cent of TEM users had a vision in the affected eye of < 3/60 on presentation compared with 5% of non-TEM users. The frequent use of TEM and the presence of numerous traditional healers in rural areas of Africa suggest that eye care programmes could benefit greatly by including traditional healers in primary eye care activities.
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